WSU Vancouver faculty member wins educational research grant
By C. Brandon Chapman – College of Education
For her work in researching the experiences of educational leaders of color in Washington, a WSU Vancouver faculty member has been named the first recipient of the George Brain and Gay Selby Faculty Award in Educational Leadership.
Katherine Rodela, an assistant professor of educational leadership, said while 40 percent of Washington state students are students of color, that’s matched by only 10 percent of educators.
“This group remains deeply underrepresented among both teachers and administrators in our schools,” Rodela said. “Research across racial and ethnic groups has found the positive impacts in having educators from similar racial and cultural backgrounds as students.”
The last point is one that especially resonates with Rodela, who is Latina.
“For a Latino student, it can be powerful to have a teacher or principal who looks like them and understands their culture and language.”
Inclusivity and actual experience
Yes, issues involving Latinx students might hit home for Rodela, but she said her research specifically wants to understand educators’ experiences and stories across races and cultures.
“Most research dealing with teachers and administrators of color only looks at one racial group, for example black principals, or Latina superintendents,” she said. “We hope to engage leaders from a variety of backgrounds, races and cultures, and hope to connect them and create a support network of leaders of color across the southwest Washington region, and hopefully the state.”
Rodela said engaging leaders in focus groups is a start. Add to that more educational preparation programs, like WSU’s, that seek to increase educator diversity, and the domino effect includes a misunderstood demographic.
As the efforts have grown to have more teachers and administrators who are culturally and linguistically diverse, the actual numbers are increasing, as well (though perhaps still not enough to match student percentage). However, Rodela said not enough is known about these educators’ actual experience.
“What we’re talking about is how they got to where they are, and how they sustain themselves ‘on the job’ while often being the only person of color in their school or district,” she said. “We need to learn more about their experiences to understand how better to support them to enter schools and be successful to support all students.”
Funding and faculty forbearers
Through generous donations from College of Education supporters, the faculty award was set up to specifically support the scholarly work of faculty within the college’s educational leadership program.
While only a modest amount, Rodela said it provides important seed funding for the study.
“This allows us the technology to analyze interview and focus group data, and provide small compensation for the busy educational leaders with whom we will be working,” she said.
Additionally, it also helps fund the travel of one doctor of education student to present the research findings to the Washington Educational Research Association.
The award is named for George Brain, former college dean (1964–1984), as well as Gay Selby, a former faculty member who retired from the college almost two years ago.
“Receiving this award named after my dear colleague Dr. Gay Selby is a huge honor for me,” Rodela said. “In the state of Washington, Gay is a pioneer — the first woman superintendent in the state, and a trailblazer in education, leadership, and also the preparation of strong educational leaders across the state.
“It is truly remarkable to have been able to work with her in the first few years of my career, and I’m deeply grateful to receive this award in her name.